New Army hair and grooming standards allow for ponytails, buzz cuts and earrings

The Army will make major changes to its hair and grooming policy, including allowing long ponytails, buzz cuts, earrings, lipstick and nail polish for women in uniform, in a push to be more inclusive, service officials revealed Tuesday.

The changes — which are expected to be dictated in an Army memo between Feb. 25 and 26 — are based on recommendations made in December by a diverse panel made up of Army leaders across the service, the majority of whom were women.

“This is one way we are working to improve the lives of our soldiers, our force, by putting people first, understanding their concerns, taking action when necessary and maintaining their razor-sharp edge of readiness,” Lt. Gen. Gary Brito, deputy chief of staff for Army Personnel, told reporters.

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“Equity, inclusion and diversity are all very important to Army readiness because we have soldiers from all walks of life ... and we have to represent them so our Army policies must therefore promote equity and inclusion,” he said.

Sgt. Maj. Brian Sanders, the Army uniform policy branch sergeant major, told reporters that many of the hair alterations are meant to prevent a type of hair loss known as alopecia, as the previous regulations, which required a tight bun, could cause hair loss or “other medical conditions of the scalp,” especially among women of color.

The new rules for allowing buzz cuts also provides ease of motion for women in combat arms training courses and helps them relay cultural preferences and gender identity.

“We decided in the panel, do we want to make this only for school or do we want to give our women in the Army the opportunity to have their hair at any length? We went with let's not tell a woman the length of hair she can have. So now, we will specify no minimum hair length for women in the Army,” Sanders said.

Female soldiers that choose to wear a long ponytail, meanwhile, are only allowed to do so during physical fitness training, tactical training and situations where they are required to wear a helmet, as they can tuck it into the back of their Army uniform.

In addition, women are now allowed to wear gold, silver and diamond earrings with their Army Combat Uniform, a move that “has never been authorized before,” and “is extremely groundbreaking for the U.S. Army,” Sanders said.

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Currently, female soldiers are only allowed to wear earrings with their service and dress uniforms. They are still prohibited from wearing them in the field or on combat deployments.

Another change also authorizes “professional” lipstick and nail polish, meaning no loud colors.

Psychologists on the panel said such additions “allow the opportunity for a woman to still feel like a woman inside and outside of uniform,” Sanders said.

“One thing we can never forget is that at the end of the day, our women are mothers, are spouses, they are sisters and they definitely want to be able to maintain their identity,” Sanders said.

The changes also include cutting words from the existing regulations that are viewed as offensive or racist

“I’m really excited about some of the changes that we have,” Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston said. “But anytime you have change, change takes some time, and some people don’t like change. But that’s just how the world is, it changes over time, and we need to change with it.”

The newest policies come after then-Secretary of Defense Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Pentagon chief defends Milley after Trump book criticism | Addresses critical race theory | Top general says Taliban has 'strategic momentum' in war The Biden administration and Tunisia: Off to a good start Overnight Defense: Navy pulls plug on 0 million railgun effort | Esper defends Milley after Trump attacks | Navy vet charged in Jan. 6 riot wants trial moved MORE in July ordered a review of whether current grooming standards are racially biased, part of a directive aimed at stamping out racial discrimination within the military.

While grooming regulations are meant to reinforce uniformity, many women of color have complained that the strict rules don’t allow for braids or other hairstyles that are easier for those with different textures and hair lengths.

Other services in years past have altered hair rules for female service members, including the Navy, which in 2018 said sailors could wear ponytails and styled buns while in uniform.

More recently, the Air Force last week said women in the service would be able to wear their hair longer beginning in February.

“Air Force women will be able to wear their hair in up to two braids or a single ponytail with bulk not exceeding the width of the head and length not extending below a horizontal line running between the top of each sleeve inseam at the under arm through the shoulder blades,” according to a Jan. 21 press release. 

This change comes after multiple female Airmen pointed out that the previous regulations, which required tighter hairstyles, could cause migraines and hair loss, especially among women of color.

“In addition to the health concerns we have for our Airmen, not all women have the same hair type, and our hair standards should reflect our diverse force,” Air Force Chief Master Sergeant JoAnne Bass said in a statement. “I am pleased we could make this important change for our women service members.”